Move over stevia? Joywell Foods raises $6.9m, aims to commercialize sweet proteins in 18-24 monthsJuly 23, 2020
While stevia and monk fruit sweeteners have improved significantly in recent years as firms have homed in on the more sugar-like (but also more scarce) steviol glycosides such as Reb M, “they still don’t taste exactly like sugar” and formulators are always looking for other natural options, claims Dr Jason Ryder, CTO at California-based startup Joywell Foods (formerly ‘Miraculex’).
Proteins such as miraculin (from the ‘miracle berry’ or Synsepalum dulcificum), brazzein (from the fruit of Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon) and curculin (from the fruit of Curculigo latifolia) can deliver a more sugar-like sweetness profile, but have not been commercialized as it’s not economically viable to produce meaningful quantities by extracting them from fruit, he told FoodNavigator-USA.
However, Joywell – one of a new breed of startups using synthetic biology to ‘program’ microbes to express proteins and other components found in plants by using DNA sequences from the plants in question – is on a mission to bring these exotic proteins to the mainstream of food formulation.
$6.9m funding round
The Davis, Calif-based startup – which has just raised $6.9m in a Series A round led by Kraft Heinz-backed venture fund Evolv Ventures and supported by Khosla Ventures, SOSV, Alumni Ventures Group and others – “takes the DNA from the plant and drops it into a microbe [yeast] to express the protein via a fermentation process,” explained Dr Ryder.
And these proteins could feature in yogurts, beverages, and a wide range of other products, according to Ryder, who has just co-authored a peer-reviewed toxicology study on miraculin along with an R&D executive from Coca-Cola, which will help inform GRAS dossiers the company is preparing both for plant-derived and fermentation-derived versions.
“We’ve developed a great relationship with the FDA and we’re in the process of finishing our dossier on plant-based miraculin and we’ll then put together a dossier covering the fermentation process,” said Dr Ryder.
While fermentation is the gamechanger for industrial-scale applications, there is a supply of berries from which miraculin can be extracted both for sampling purposes, but also for smaller-scale product launches, or for companies that don’t want to use a fermentation-derived product, he said.
“Miracle berries are grown natively in West Africa and southern Taiwan and there’s even a domestic source in southern Florida, so there are quantities of the fruit available. There will be consumers that want plant-based and we will be able to offer that, but if you could also do this via fermentation at a much larger scale for lower cost, why wouldn’t you?”
‘We’re talking with a lot of CPG companies’
Joywell – which has “a lot of trade secrets” but has also filed three provisional patent applications covering its innovations – will use the new capital to build-out its proprietary technology…